Alexa Presentation Language is now generally available

Following a press event at its Seattle headquarters this morning, Amazon announced general availability of Alexa Presentation Language (APL), the toolset designed to make it easier for developers to create “visually rich” skills for Alexa devices with screens — such as Amazon’s Echo Show, Fire TV, Fire Tablet, and Echo Spot. Its rollout comes after the launch of APL 1.1 in beta in July and coincides with the preview of two new developer tools — skill personalization and the Alexa Web API for Games.

“We believe that the emergence of voice user interfaces isn’t an incremental improvement to existing technology; it marks a significant shift in human-computer interaction,” wrote Alex Skills Kit senior product manager Arunjeet Singh. “That’s why APL is designed from the ground up for creating voice-first, multimodal Alexa skills.”

Amazon Presentation Language

As a refresher, APL — a JSON-based HTML5 language — consists of five core elements:

  • Images, text, and lists
  • Layouts, styles, and conditional expressions
  • Speech synchronization
  • Slideshows
  • Built-in intents by ordinal

App designers can specify text color, size, and weight; make text and image responsive; or use both vertical and horizontal scrollbars to show continuous lists of choices. APL ships with preconfigured headers, footers, and dialog boxes, and app layouts, voice responses, and other visuals can be tailored to the device shapes and types. Also in tow are commands that change the audio or visual presentation of on-screen content, built-in intents that enable selection by ordinal (for example, a user can say “Select the second one” when a list is on-screen), and slideshows of images and other content.

Here’s how it works: Developers create JSON files — “documents,” in APL parlance — that get invoked by Alexa skills and downloaded to target devices. Those devices import images and other data from the document and render the experience.

Skills using APL include a CNBC stock organizer, Big Sky’s weather forecast app, public transit schedule tracker NextThere, travel app Kayak, and Food Network’s recipe sorter.

Notably, Facebook’s Portal and Portal+ devices incorporate elements of APL for hands-free visual content; their weather forecasts, shopping lists, and calendar events screens were designed with Amazon’s toolkit. And LG and Sony smart TVs and Lenovo tablets support APL through the Alexa Smart Screen and TV Device SDK.

Amazon says that in the coming months it will improve APL with support for shadow effects, noise filters, and play and pause buttons on TV devices.

Personalized Alexa skill experiences

Alongside the latest version of the Alexa Presentation Language, Amazon took the wraps off skill personalization in the Alexa Skills Kit, which enables developers to create personalized skill experiences using voice profiles captured by the Alexa app. Voice apps leveraging skill personalization can address preferences, remember settings, differentiate between household members, and more.

A developer could personalize a game based on who’s playing, for example, or offer a customized exercise routine tailored to individual fitness goals. Moreover, voice-personalized Alexa skills can be combined with app-to-app account linking to help users discover skills, link accounts, and deliver flows unique to their voice.

Skill personalization is available in preview for existing and new skills. Interested developers are required to fill out and submit a brief survey, after which they’ll be notified if they’re selected.

Alexa Web API for Games

Today also marks the debut of the Alexa Web API for Games, which Amazon describes as a collection of tech and tools for creating visually rich and interactive voice-controlled game experiences. Using the new API, developers can build voice apps using HTML, Canvas 2D, WebAudio, WebG, JavaScript, and CSS, starting with Echo Show devices and Fire TVs.